Society

In France, State Aid For Parents Facing Internet-Addicted Teens

When it comes to offering comfort and counseling to parents dealing with their Internet-era teenagers, the French government is shelling out major cash.

Lost at home
Lost at home
Gaëlle Dupont

PARIS — Six women and one man have gathered around the table. They are strangers of various ages who come from different backgrounds, but they understand each other perfectly because of the strong unifying dilemma they have in common: All are parents struggling to understand their teenagers.

They have gathered on a Saturday afternoon in the café of "l'Ecole des Parents," an educational research association based in eastern Paris. Behind the old-fashioned name (the association was founded back in the 1920s), it is a friendly place where parent meetings hosted by psychologists are often organized.

The goal is to share experiences and help each other. This new and popular form of parental support, which is government funded, is in growing demand; in fact, funding has doubled from 50 to 100 million euros a year. This theme tackled this afternoon, “teenagers and authority,” ranks among the parents’ biggest concerns.

Each parent starts by describing his or her situation with their children, all between the ages of 13 and 15. Sophie* has two sons who “don’t follow our schedule, never eat with us, and are always on the computer.” Anne has just forbidden her son from using the computer in the hopes of improving his grades. “He asks me for it every single day,” she says in a tired voice. Thérèse says she is “exhausted” because she has to cope with a teenager who is “always contradicting” her. Katie’s son “becomes violent when we refuse him something.”

“I’m a little lost,” she admits, “so I came here.” Sophie says she has no longer “any control” over her twins, one of which is failing school. Henri is here because “showing authority isn’t easy every day” with his daughters.

Age doesn’t seem to make things any better or worse for the parents. The youngest mother here today is 43, the eldest 57. Occupation and social status don’t matter either. Sandrine is a doctor, Katie works in the luxury field, Thérèse at the ministry of justice, and others are youth social workers. “I know how to handle other people’s children,” Henri laughs. “With my own, it’s more complicated.” Murmurs of approval emerge from around the table.

Technology at the root

The main topic quickly becomes difficulties the parents experience when trying to communicate with their children. Computers seem to be a universal problem: The parents have no idea how to combat technology. Some realize that their children turn the screens back on at night after their parents have gone to bed.

“In the evening, I tell my daughter, ‘Hand over your weapons,’” says Henri. “I confiscate everything.” But some quickly feel guilty about it. “My son told me, ‘Mom, you’re taking my life away,’” Anne says. “It’s true I don’t realize what his life is. I don’t know how to judge what's good for him anymore.” They have “their whole universe in these little boxes,” Claire notes. “We didn’t experience that,” Katie says. “So it’s hard to understand what we haven’t lived ourselves.”

From time to time, the psychologist intervenes and reassures everyone. Teenagers are “verbally disabled,” explains Nathalie Isoré, a psychologist at the Ecole des Parents. “They need to be self-centered and are always in opposition to their parents. It’s part of becoming an adult. Today, they take refuge in video games. Past generations did the same thing, but elsewhere.”

Within the group, parenting styles vary widely. Some are strict, and others are more laid back. “I had very authoritarian parents,” Claire recalls. “To my children, I give everything, right away.” Katie had the opposite experience, which she has replicated. “I have no authority,” she says. “My ex-husband is also permissive. My new partner is the only one who tries to have authority over my son.” But that’s not working out so well. Tensions are rising, and the couple is not sure whether to live together.

Life is no easier for strict parents. “I’m scared of being too bossy,” Anne says. She aims to have the “authority of two” because she raises her children alone. “I feel I don’t leave him enough space to grow up,” Thérèse says. “And when I get angry, I sometimes start undermining him.”

They all agree on one point: Saying "no" is always a challenge. “You have to be strong, take your time,” Anne says. “Our lives are busier and busier, and we’re exhausted,” Katie says. “Putting up barriers means extra work for us.” And having extended and recomposed families doesn’t help either. “There are lots of divided step families,” Katie notes. “In large cities, you often end up very alone.”

They all question themselves. “Why are you so sure that what you are doing is wrong?” the psychologist asks. “Think about everything you have given them!” On a piece of paper, she draws a graphic with “listening” as the x-coordinate and “authority” as the y-coordinate. “There’s a whole set of attitudes between excessive empathy and excessive authority,” she explains. “The ideal is to find balance.”

“Parents are looking for ready-made advice,” says Tiphanie Héliard, another psychologist at the Ecole des Parents. “We look for solutions based on their abilities.” When they leave, the parents may not feel they have the solution, but they at least feel better. “It helps to move forward,” Anne says. “It’s interesting to listen to others,” Henri adds. “And it’s comforting to know that we’re not alone.”

*All the names of people quoted have been changed

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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